Yung Suk Kim
We need an alternative view of Jesus beyond the Western Jesuses or Jesus the liberator.
Excerpts from Messiah in Weakness: A Portrait of Jesus from the Perspective of the Dispossessed (Cascade, 2016)
QUOTE (pages 4-6)
To some people Jesus becomes a hindrance to God’s revelation because they see only Jesus without looking at God to whom Jesus points his finger. Jesus does not preach about himself but proclaims “the good news of God” (euangelion tou theou) (Mark 1:14).6 Jesus does not say believe in me but “believe in the good news (of God)” (Mark 1:15).7 The good news is not about Jesus but about God. Jesus is not the primary source of good news. Rather, he testifies to the truth of God, as indicated in John 18:37, and embodies the good news of God through his costly journey of faith. Therefore, if we do not distinguish between God and Jesus, Jesus becomes an idol that keeps us from seeing who God is or what God requires us to do. Micah seems to deliver a good word about that: “O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
In this idolatrous view of Jesus, his crucifixion is understood merely as salvific atonement through which sins are dealt with and cleansed.8 But in fact, Jesus’ death would be unthinkable if he did not proclaim the good news of God in a hostile world. His lifelong ministry and message is focused on God’s good news and his rule: “The time is fulfilled and God’s rule has come near; change your mind and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). Jesus was willing to die for God’s good news and God’s rule in the here and now. But this does not mean that his death is necessary or that his suffering is good. Jesus’ mission is not to die for humanity as a sin offering but to proclaim God’s rule on earth.
As we see above, the historical Jesus has been understood in ways that remove him from the very struggle he had in proclaiming God’s good birth to death, and therefore that he only identifies with the weak. In other words, Jesus himself was not weak.10 This view explains away the weakness of Jesus that results in his crucifixion. However, Paul so clearly states that “Jesus was crucified out of weakness (ex astheneias)” (2 Cor 13:4a). Paul does not hide the fact that Jesus was crucified because of weakness. Ex astheneias means “out of weakness,” “by weakness,” or “because of weakness.” I wonder why then the NIV and others including the NRSV translate ex astheneias as “in weakness,” as if Jesus suffered voluntarily. In my judgment, translators or editors of those English Bibles have interest in making sure that Jesus’ crucifixion is voluntary and salvific. But there are two problems with this kind of translation. On the one hand, the problem is that evil hands behind Jesus’ crucifixion are not questioned or named. Even though Jesus risks his life for God’s good news, his tragic death is not the goal of his life; it is the consequence or price of his work. On the other hand, the problem is that questions about theodicy are not raised, as if God allowed Jesus to be crucified for salvation of humans. Actually, Jesus’ death is tragic and it is not wanted by God or Jesus. If Jesus’ message about God’s rule had been accepted by people, he would not have been crucified. In Paul’s view Jesus was a weak human being like any other. That is to say, Jesus could not avoid his tragic death as long as he continued proclaiming God’s rule on earth.
Paul does not stop at Jesus’ crucifixion by weakness. He goes on to declare God’s power: “but [Jesus] lives by the power of God” (2 Cor 13:4b). Jesus’ crucifixion happened in the past, but now God makes him live now. Paul makes a distinction between Jesus and God. On the one hand, Jesus did his best and yet was crucified because of weakness. In other words, Jesus could not raise himself. His best job was to live for God even at the risk of his life. The next part is God’s business. God vindicates Jesus by his power. In this way, Paul contrasts Jesus’ weakness with God’s power and in doing so he makes a distinction between God and Jesus. So the whole verse of 2 Cor 13:4 makes better sense if we translate it like this: “For he was crucified by weakness, but lives by the power of God.” Here “by weakness” has a direct parallel with “by the power of God.” But most English Bibles do not have this distinction or contrast between Jesus and God. By translating ex astheneias as “in weakness” they support the view of Jesus’ salvific suffering or the redemptive suffering of God with Jesus.11 In doing so, what is sacrificed is the negligence of evil power and complex meaning of his life and death. We will discuss more about Jesus’ crucifixion and weakness in chapter 6.